An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
I’VE recently noticed the hype of activity in and around Port Moresby as the city gears up to play host to the 15th Pacific Games.
Soldiers and police are present on every corner of the city in preparation for the Games. Beside Port Moresby’s freeways and along its streets are billboards and placards promoting the Games.
The media keeps us in the loop by counting down the days to the opening ceremony elected leaders are constantly urging and reminding us to embrace the Games and change our attitude for the better.
Surrounding all this is a feeling that change is imminent in the city but it is not clear whether it is for the good or worse of the majority of the people. When one moves around the city, you can see clearly the divide between rich and poor.
As the city expands, the wealthy are pushing the poor to the fringes and high class residential areas like Touguba constantly see new buildings which fuel the already exorbitant and property values (and rental rates) of Port Moresby.
The price of goods is so high that even formal sector employees find it difficult to keep ahead of inflation. If this continues I am afraid we could end up with slums like the Soweto ghetto of South Africa.
Places like 6, 8 and 9 Mile once included vast undeveloped tracts of land where the Department of Primary Industries administered much agriculture and livestock activity.
Today these areas teem with businesses and people. Subsequently the government has been forced to build the necessary infrastructure to catch up with the development. Every day is Catch 22 for the government as it tries to get control of the situation.
It is amazing how, in the last two decades, Port Moresby has transformed from a backward crime ridden place to a global city. But there is a lot of work to be done before we are on par.
In addition to the Pacific Games, Port Moresby will also host the 2018 APEC Summit and the FIFA Under 20 World Cup. Recently the government also expressed its desire to host the Asia Caribbean Pacific Leaders’ Summit in Port Moresby.
While such events seem to augur a transformational approach in PNG, in particular Port Moresby, PNG’s development since independence has brought layer upon layer of problems that have been left unresolved because we have had to adapt to great change within a short span of time.
That is why socio-economic problems such as rural-urban migration, unemployment and population growth are putting PNG’s future on the brink of uncertainty. We have not reflected effectively on our challenges and as a result have gone around in circles when it comes to planning and development.
We have so many policies and laws in this country yet we fail time and again to implement and bring to fruition the objectives we establish. And every time we fail our people, we create a more unstable nation because people become irritated and feel disenfranchised and put out by the government.
PNG has a long history dating back 50,000 years while modernisation started let’s say in the 1960s as we moved to become an independent state. When traditional and modern collide there are bound to be problems.
Simply put: With modernisation we have been asked to abandon 50,000 years of existence for a lifestyle barely over 50 years ago. We should commend ourselves for adapting to great changes in record time yet have we truly grasped the direction in which it leads us?
Most importantly, have we agreed whose interest change should serve?
If you look at PNG’s socio-economic indicators, you will see that we have a very high illiteracy rate and most of our villages remain isolated and lack access to basic services such as health and education.
International trade is supposed to have brought us benefits to improve our living standards, not added to our woes. Something is not right.
We were offered independence on a platter yet we have blindly taken our people into a world spinning out of control. We continue to unearth natural resources and there is a lot more wealth still untapped. But there is very little to show for it.
While much can be said about PNG’s progress with regard to democracy, there is little to be proud of when the bulk of our people are isolated from the significant improvement in standards of living worldwide.
We have not given our people an opportunity to have a say whether they want change and what sort of change they want. We have also not prepared them for change.
Furthermore, certain groups of people have been able to use their power to monopolise much of the nation’s wealth. Good government has been highjacked during elections and on the floor of parliament and our system of government has been labeled a kleptocracy.
Political power plays continue to allow inequality, wantokism and corruption to go unabated. If left unchecked this looks sure to fragment the political landscape of this country.
The latest infrastructure development in Port Moresby can be described in the same vein. Flyovers, freeways and stadiums are signs of progress, yet there are countless thousands of people who have become bystanders watching the world around them rapidly changing but unable to participate.
We seem to be pushing development on the notion of every man for himself.
Just as there is a socio-economic divide within Port Moresby, there is a clear disconnect between Port Moresby and the rest of PNG. The capital is a magnet attracting people from all corners of PNG and the world at large.
For someone like me who grew up in the early 1990s, the changes are hard to comprehend. Over the last 20 years I have seen Papua New Guinea move from a cassette to a CD and then a flash drive society. From snail mail to digital.
As I contemplate what the future holds for my country, I believe we would all agree on the reality that PNG’s progress has been nothing short of a great leap forward.
Yet, with so much accompanying corruption, we do wonder if it has been a great leap forward for all. I guess only time will tell.